I have stumbled onto something significant. It involves objective correctness. Here is some context: I’ve realized before that people often claim there is a perfect or correct way of doing something when in reality there isn’t. This can range from diets to spiritual practice to careers. There is no one-size-fits-all life, but people act like there is. (A note on spiritual practice: I’m thinking even within a particular religion, not even getting into the issue of Truth. For example, some people could think there are a certain number of hours one must devote a week to studying the foundational religious texts, a certain number of hours for service, a certain number of hours for worship. There is a certain mode of dress and certain articles of clothing that are not allowed. None of these additions might be doctrinal. These are just ideas about the actual “right way” of doing things. It can differ between countries or regions of the same country.)
I think a lot of my doubt and uncertainty comes from listening too much to other humans. Let me explain. I get too sucked in to living in a society subjectively that I buy into the messages I’m seeing or hearing without question or skepticism. For example, I used to be less skeptical about ideal beauty and physical appearance, especially seen in the media. I would glance over the magazine covers at the grocery store checkout and think, “It’s not only entirely possible to look like that but I should look like that.” Later I found out about the absurd level of manipulation of those images. Even the movie stars on the cover don’t look like that—even though they may have a team of people working on their appearance and fitness and diet, they still don’t look as perfect as that cover shot. The photo edited out more fat and sculpted their body and erased blemishes and undereye circles. Was I being taught in school or told directly by people, “Ideal beauty as seen on magazines is what you should aspire to and is a good, realistic goal”? No, it wasn’t that literal. But seeing images there and in ads and in movies etc. etc. etc. sent me that message. Those are the types of messages I’m talking about—the implicit ones that people subconsciously ascribe to.
And see, it isn’t just me. If everyone else in the world vocally criticized those cover images, it would be one thing. But either people say nothing or they confirm that that ideal is achievable. I think people underestimate the power of socialization and of being immersed in a cultural environment. You absorb the morals and ideals without people necessarily preaching to you.
This brings me to what I stumbled upon. I was journaling and thinking about this subject, about how obsessive I get about finding the “right” way to do something. It permeates my life to the smallest of tasks. It started today with trying to decide whether to write in a physical journal, on paper with pen, or type it in a word processing document. An old advertising slogan sprang to my mind: “There’s no wrong way…to eat a Reese’s.” I loved it. It was a great symbol of this attitude I wanted to have. For a lot of actions, there isn’t a right way, so just do anything! Just act. Just do it. There’s no wrong way to do it. It’s very comforting to me.
I decided to look up the slogan because I realized I hadn’t really heard it for awhile and wondered if it was an old campaign. When I googled the phrase “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s,” the first entry on the results page was a post entitled The Right Way to Eat a Reese’s. Excuse me? But—but—there’s no wrong way!!
“Yes, there is!” smugly reply some vastly superior, wise individuals.
The preview text for that post:
Either using your fingers or your teeth, break the peanut butter cup cleanly down the center to make two equal halves. Then, you can enjoy your Reese’s in two separate portions. Many advocates of this style argue that it allows for the perfect balance of peanut butter and chocolate in each bite.
Are you serious?! This is an ordinary type of candy! What big difference could it even possibly make to eat it this way?! Why are you complicating this?! Who are these “many advocates” and why are they devoting so much time to preaching this ridiculous overly complicated mode of eating candy?!?!?!?!
I don’t really care about the literal peanut butter cup: I care about this habit that people have of making everything have to have a “correct” practice. The candy is just a symbol of this aggravating practice. I am especially bothered that this insistence of a “right” way is directly opposed to the whole slogan! I wouldn’t have as much of an issue if it were some chocolate bar whose slogan had nothing to do with a correct way of consuming it. But people can’t just let things be and accept that “there’s no wrong way” to do certain things. They have to have the superior information!
The truth is that many things don’t have one superior mode of completion or practice. They are actually most effective when tailored to the individual! Think about something like diet and weight loss, one of the main things people want to push as having One Right Way (often through fad diets): people have different metabolisms and body shapes, are different ages, have different physical limitations, and have different strengths and weaknesses. There just isn’t one way of eating and exercising that works the exact same way for everyone! It just doesn’t exist. Some people have knee problems and can’t run. Losing weight rapidly on a reality TV show isn’t effective long-term. People don’t have the same access to gyms and nutritious foods because of financial limitations.
It just seems like people so often derive their worth from doing things the “correct” way. We must somehow be taught this principle for so many people to believe in it. People are just so threatened with information that contradicts their beliefs in the “right” way, whether it is regarding politics, health, parenting, religion, careers, money, etc. There are an absurd amount of voices preaching an ideal way of behaving for each of these subjects! You’ve got hundreds of voices telling you how to think about politics from myriad news channels, magazines, and websites alone. Then you’ve got at least that amount telling you how to eat. And then how to parent (or whether you should or shouldn’t have kids). And then what The Meaning of Life is. And then the right amount of money to have. And then the right way to get that money. And then and then and then and then.
I believe the greatest amount of strength actually comes from finding worth and validation from inside yourself, not from outside sources. It’s often so difficult, but to be truly strong and resilient, I really think we have to learn to tune out or disregard most of the voices constantly blathering out there in the world.
It’s been hard enough for me to accept that authority figures I’ve trusted in the past say things I actually I don’t agree with. It’s hard enough to realize that and think, “I don’t agree with what they’re saying.” But then it’s another hurdle you have to get over to realize and accept they don’t even have to negatively affect you. You can hear them criticizing or contradicting your values and actually not be bothered because you have a shield of self worth.
I really want to improve in this regard. I used to want apologies more from people. I wanted them to admit that they hurt me. Now I’m seeing that instead, I could accept that their actions don’t even have to change if my perspective does. I don’t have to feel that pang of shame if they insult me intentionally or unintentionally. I don’t have to listen to them.
We already tune out a lot of voices. A lot of people we can just say, “I don’t agree with them” and move on. But when those people are close to us or are authority figures we’re taught to trust, it’s much harder. But I believe it is possible to not be threatened by someone else’s condemnation of you.